Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 9, 2013

Miss Emily digs deep and so did Gibby, Flood and White in month of memories

By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

—  Whenever Black History Month rolls up on the calendar I almost never think first of Martin Luther King Jr. or Frederick Douglass or Rosa Parks. Not even Jackie Robinson, for that matter. Later this month, major league baseball will begin its annual spring training routine and my favorite sports season will begin again. It will always be the national pastime in my mind’s eye and three pioneering ball players with a thought toward civil rights are forever high on my list.

It is usually Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Bill White who cross my mind. Those three helped the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team not only truly integrate the ball club but also break down racial barriers in at least a couple of states. When they arrived in St. Louis beginning in 1959, the Redbirds kept white players at one hotel during spring training and the “colored” players stayed in private homes at what was then known as the Negro section in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It was only when Flood brought that to the attention of the team owner, August A. “Gussie” Busch, that the Cardinals bought a hotel so that all the team members could stay together. That was just one instance of how these three pivotal performers helped to equalize matters for baseball. Gibson was not only a terrific athlete but a proud man who chose professional baseball over a career with the Harlem Globetrotters because, as he said he “could not stand the clowining.”

Bill White was a natural leader and went on to become president of the national league. Flood later challenged baseball’s century-old reserve clause which was not far from a slavery-style hold on players’ services and so helped to make possible today’s large salaries and player freedom to move between teams that has produced such a bonanza for the performers. Each of those three players did great work in promoting racial advancement, which I appreciated, and the fact that Flood was hitting over .300 most years, with White a steady 100-RBI man, and Gibson the best pitcher in baseball on any given day for most of the decade of the 1960s didn’t hurt any, either! All three were good on and off the field, great examples of equal opportunity employees who only asked for a fair chance to prove themselves.

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While reading through Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Soul Selects Her Own Society” a natural lead-in question for thoughtful juniors is to ask just what a soul is. Where do you find one? Is it in the body — the thumb, maybe? It is always interesting to review such ideas with young people, whose minds are not yet closed to new ideas. Sometimes religion is mentioned, sometimes not but there is often a student or two who will bring God into the discussion.

We had a dictionary definition discussion of the difference between an atheist and an agnostic in a few classes and nobody had to be identified as either one, we simply thought it was interesting. In the spring 2013 issue of “Teaching Tolerance” magazine is an article somewhat related to the underlying tone of (at least) the title and first line of the poem. Called “More God than Ever” it reiterates the fact that religion is not banned from school — neither is prayer, unless it is of the school-sponsored variety.

As long ago as 1962, it was Billy Graham who pointed out that more than 80 percent of adults wanted prayer in schools, noting the Supreme Court was punishing the majority so the minority could rule. However, in 1984 a law called the Equal Access Act made possible the opportunity for student-initiated religious clubs. Many schools, including Tazewell High School, have a Teens for Christ club and have a “meeting at the pole” (flag pole) outside at certain times of the year. It’s all strictly volunteer for these functions.

So, Miss Emily, who may or may not have been considered a “no hoper” at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary nearly 160 years ago, making students ask questions about just what they hold inside and what it might mean. And – it’s being studied legally!